Culture & Conversation Politics

As the Pressure to Act Like ‘Real’ Americans Mounts, Let’s Not

Rinku Sen

I can feel already the pressure to be more conventionally womanly than I am. To be quieter. To be more accommodating. To smile at men I don’t know. I can feel already that women who look like me will try to stick out less. To look more “American”; to abandon our bindis, our hijabs, our salwaar kameez; to be safe and survive.

It’s two weeks after the election, and the feeling that November 8 was the day the world changed will not leave me. Having a president-elect who has the ability and the temperament to end history itself has me thinking in epic terms.

Just a few years of unchecked corporate extraction from the environment will make climate change impossible to reverse, as we were so close to the edge anyway. Just a few days of a country under the influence of newly empowered neo-Nazi movement has threatened the livelihoods and psyches and lives of 700 people who reported hateful or harassing incidents since Election Day. And they are just the ones who reported their experiences. Many more probably didn’t.

I have no doubt that everything is going to get harder. Getting our birth control. Getting food on the table. Getting to work. Getting our kids taught. Getting real news. Getting our families home each night. The difficulty of just getting through life could ensure that we don’t have the strength or the time to fight this most epic of battles, between greed and sharing, between excluding and embracing, between control and freedom.

Whether we say it or not, all of my interactions are tinged with this thought: “We don’t know how long we’re going to be able to do this.” “This” being wear what we want to work. “This” being love who we want. “This” being pay for lunch.

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I can feel already the pressure to be more conventionally womanly than I am. To be quieter. To be more accommodating. To smile at men I don’t know. I can feel already that women who look like me will try to stick out less. To look more “American”; to abandon our bindis, our hijabs, our salwaar kameez; to be safe and survive.

I can feel already the pressure to tamp down my sense of catastrophic epicness so that Americans who can’t imagine how bad it can get can feel less overwhelmed, so that we all can know what to do, so that we can act.

But I don’t have a strategy just yet. I know it needs to be crafted to carry us through decades, not years, months, or days. I know it needs to be informed by history, but with many layers of modern technology, finance, and politics added. I know we can’t just keep doing what we’re doing and call ourselves smart because this isn’t a regular Republican-Democrat mess. I know we don’t have much time. We will need to pool all our expertise, all our information, all our ideas, and then actually focus on what we each can contribute.

But for now, for this season of holiday consumption and distraction, let’s practice being ourselves even as everything gets harder.

As the pressure to act like “real” Americans mounts, let’s not. Let’s keep wearing our salwaar kameez rather than dresses. Let’s wear our most beautiful hijab. Let’s flash that rainbow sticker as often as we can. Let’s be us.

Let’s be us in the subway. Let’s be us on the job. Let’s be us at school. Let’s help each other be ourselves too. Let’s be us everywhere we can, refusing to disappear ourselves.

Being us is a risk, I know. I judge no one for how they decide to get through. But there are bigger risks coming, and the risk we take now might be a prerequisite for taking those. Let’s be us, even as we craft that grand strategy. It’s an epic, global battle, and only the real “us” will be able to win it.

 

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